| US is engaging Julian Assanges lawyers about a deal that could set the imprisoned publisher free | MR Online The United States Department of Justice Robert F. Kennedy Building on a winter day from the intersection of Constitution Avenue NW and 10th Street NW in downtown Washington, DC.

Assange in plea deal talks

Originally published: Consortium News on March 20, 2024 by Joe Lauria (more by Consortium News)  | (Posted Mar 22, 2024)

UPDATED: The report in The Wall Street Journal makes public what Consortium News had learned off the record, namely that the U.S. is engaging Julian Assange’s lawyers about a deal that could set the imprisoned publisher free. 

Lawyers for Julian Assange and officials of the U.S. Justice Department are engaged in talks for a possible plea deal that could see Assange walk out of Belmarsh Prison in London as a free man, according to a report Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper said the DOJ was considering whether to allow Assange to “plead guilty to a reduced charge of mishandling classified information,” which is a misdemeanor. He is currently charged with felonies for allegedly violating the U.S. Espionage Act and for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, charges that carry as much as 175 years in prison.

A deal to accept guilt for mishandling classified information could see Assange “eventually” walk free if the five years he has already spent in London’s Belmarsh Prison is counted as time served, the newspaper said.

“Justice Department officials and Assange’s lawyers have had preliminary discussions in recent months about what a plea deal could look like to end the lengthy legal drama, according to people familiar with the matter, a potential softening in a standoff filled with political and legal complexities,” the Journal reported.

Without elaborating. the paper added:

U.S. prosecutors face diminishing odds that he would serve much more time even if he were convicted stateside.

The newspaper also said what has become plain, that the Biden administration, during a re-election campaign, does not need a journalist arriving in chains to Washington to stand trial for publishing U.S. state secrets that reveals government wrongdoing. “An extradition would throw a political hot potato into the lap of the Biden administration,” the Journal wrote.

The administration “has long struggled” with the First Amendment implications of the case, the newspaper added.

Awaiting word from high court

Assange is now awaiting a decision by the High Court in London on whether he would be allowed to appeal the Home Office’s order to extradite him to the U.S.

The WSJ said talks “remain in flux,” and could “fizzle.” The “highest levels” of the DOJ would have to approve, the paper said, presumably meaning U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The newspaper said Assange’s U.S. lawyer Barry Pollack gave “no indication that the department will take a deal.”

Because of the confirmation by the WSJ, Consortium News can now reveal that it learned off-the-record of the talks in the past months.

Pollack said in a statement to Consortium News:

It is inappropriate for Mr. Assange’s lawyers to comment while his case is before the UK High Court other than to say we have been given no indication that the Department of Justice intends to resolve the case and the United States is continuing with as much determination as ever to seek his extradition on all 18 charges, exposing him to 175 years in prison.

The DOJ would not comment to the WSJ.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette, the London Daily Mail and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He is the author of two books, A Political Odyssey, with Sen. Mike Gravel, foreword by Daniel Ellsberg; and How I Lost By Hillary Clinton, foreword by Julian Assange.

Monthly Review does not necessarily adhere to all of the views conveyed in articles republished at MR Online. Our goal is to share a variety of left perspectives that we think our readers will find interesting or useful. —Eds.